Richard Linklater’s journey to the top of Hollywood’s director’s list has been a slow and steady one. Over his quarter-century in Hollywood, Linklater has graduated from a captivatingly lazy slice-of-life look at adolescent life in 1991’s Slacker to one of the most acclaimed films of the millennium with the ambitiously brilliant Boyhood in 2014.
His newest film, Everybody Wants Some!!, billed as a “spiritual sequel” to his beloved 1993 day-in-the-life 1970s romp Dazed and Confused, is hitting movie theaters now to great acclaim.
So what better time to than now to take a look back at his storied career? Here’s our rankings of Linklater’s films:
16. Bad News Bears (2005)
Think The Bad News Bears needed an update? No? Yeah, it really didn’t. This updated version, with Billy Bob Thornton taking over for Walter Matthau, is intermittently entertaining, but just doesn’t have the same spirit the original did. What could?
15. Waking Life (2001)
Well … this existential mind-@#$! of a movie, tackling Life’s Big Questions in a trippy animated Rotoscoping form, won’t be for everyone. Some will find it tedious; many will find it insightful. It’s certainly never boring.
14. SubUrbia (1996)
Linklater went back to the Slacker genre with forgettable results in this 1996 project, an adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play, following around a bunch of no-direction twentysomethings. It just doesn’t spark as Slacker did.
13. The Newton Boys (1998)
Certainly one of the most 1990s casts here, with Skeet Ulrich and Julianna Margulies among the leads – along with Linklater regulars like Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke. Ulrich, McConaughey, Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio are the titular boys, a gang robbing their way through Texas in the early 1920s. It’s breezily amusing, but never reaches “memorable” status.
12. Tape (2001)
This adaptation of Stephen Belber’s play is an intriguing three-hander, with Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard delivering tense dramatic performances. It’s really a play on film, taking place in real-time, as the three play a cat-and-mouse game with events both current and past. Definitely worth a rental, if you can find it.
11. Me and Orson Welles (2011)
Christian McKay’s portrayal of Orson Welles is the chief draw for this film – he’s uncannily great as the renowned actor, leading young Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) through his acclaimed Mercury Theater production of “Caesar.” A fascinating little movie that probably deserved more attention than it got.
10. Fast Food Nation (2006)
One of the overlooked gems of Linklater’s career, this adaptation of the Eric Schlosser book certainly has an agenda – it’s out to take down the meat industry – but it’s so skillfully made that even the most ardent carnivores might think twice. Bruce Willis has a killer cameo here as a meat industry executive.
9. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
If you can bear with the unique animated Rotoscoping of the film – it takes a while to adjust – you’ll find one of the most unique sci-fi features of the past decade, a dystopian Philip K. Dick adaptation that chronicles a drug-addled, heavily-surveilled society. The cast (Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr.) is terrific. It makes you wonder what Linklater could do if he brought his talent to some different genres.
8. Slacker (1991)
Like Kevin Smith, Linklater made his name with a small independent film that chronicled the daily life of young-ish misfits; decades later, Slacker deserves to be mentioned right alongside Clerks. It’s a low-key but memorable look at a lost generation of Austin-ites, small in scope but hugely memorable.
7. Bernie (2011)
In a turn we’d never seen from the usually comedic Jack Black, Linklater brought out Black’s dramatic chops to this surprisingly effective true-story docu-drama, casting him as sweet-hearted small-town Texas mortician Bernie Tiede – whose relationship with harsh widower Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine) turns tragic. Black is fantastic, as is Matthew McConaughey, beginning his renaissance with a fine turn as the local district attorney.
6. School of Rock (2003)
On the flip side of the token, Linklater was also the first filmmaker to really harness Jack Black’s manic energy for an effective leading role, putting him front-and center for this hilarious Mike White-penned comic adventure. It’s spirited and fun, and Black’s interactions with the precociously talented youngsters that make up his “school” remain the highlight of his comedic film career.
5, 4, and 3. Before Sunrise (1995) Before Sunset (2004) Before Midnight (2013)
Cheating a little bit by lumping the Before movies into one trilogy. If you weren’t turned off of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset by the emo kids in mid-2000s college, you’re in luck. Watch all three to discover an uncommonly intelligent and incisive look into a modern relationship, perfectly inhabited by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as the romantic leads (both worked on the screenplays for the latter two movies with Linklater).
2. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Is it possible to be nostalgic for an era you never experienced first hand? That’s certainly the feeling you’ll get when you watch this 1970s slice-of-life film – full of pot, beer, bell-bottoms and Aerosmith – from Linklater. It remains one of the most beloved movies of the 1990s and works as a fabulous showcase for some of the modern era’s biggest stars (most notably, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey).
1. Boyhood (2014)
Linklater’s ambitiously brilliant 2014 film earned him his first Best Director nomination and a secure spot among the finest-directors-today list. A dizzyingly pure work of cinematic achievement, the film – shot over a span of twelve years – captured the boyhood-to-adolescence trek of Texas boy Mason (Ellar Coltrane), son of divorced parents Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette).
It’s a captivating growing-up snapshot, affecting in its simplicity and bolstered by the career-best work of Hawke and Arquette (both were nominated for Oscars; she won). One of the great movies of the last decade.
Which Richard Linklater movie is your favorite? Do you have a different opinion on the ranking? Give your input in the comments below.